116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
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Cheri Register's new book, 'The Big Marsh: The Story of a Lost Landscape,' is centered on Freeborn County in Minnesota. But the history of the marsh and its draining is part of the story of Cedar Rapids and the surrounding area, as well.
Register writes of a conversation with a friend: 'Our reveries had given way to a somber discussion about the damage done to our Midwestern landscape over a century and a half. I mourned the loss of the Big Marsh, which held rainwater in place so that it did not flood the Cedar and inundate towns downstream as it would do three years later with devastating effect to Cedar Rapids. My friend rued the continued tiling and ditching, the dwindling of the underground aquifers, and the practice of plowing fields bare in the fall with no stubble to hold the soil in place.'
Throughout 'The Big Marsh,' Register blends the story of her family with the wider story of the marsh, smoothly weaving together the personal and the public. Her prose is lovely and never mawkish even as she reflects on all that was lost when the marsh was drained.
Register calls attention to the common misapprehensions that can lead to poor decisions about the environment: 'It has taken us most of another century to realize that the standard ideal of beauty — a lovely, crystalline sheet of water, clear and transparent to the lake bottom and ringed by sand-fill beaches—may be a dead lake.' She suggests that the less ordered landscape is, in fact, more desirable: 'Our ideal landscape needs water, abundant water teeming with life.'
'The Big Marsh' is teeming with lively prose in service of an important story with import far beyond a single county in Minnesota.
What: Cheri Register reads from 'The Big Marsh: The Story of a Lost Landscape'
Where: Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City
When: 7 p.m. Thursday